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[Cubicle 7] World War Cthulhu: Their Darkest Hour
Authors: Dominic McDowell, Garath Ryder-Hanrahan, Jason Durall, Stuart Boon, Martin Dougherty & Ken Spencer
Publisher: Cubicle 7
The 20s has a Call. The 30s has a Trail. So, it was perhaps inevitable that at some point there would be a thorough set of source books that covers the 40s. The fact that there was a major human conflagration just adds spice to the Mythos pot. I have a thing about World War 2 that stretches back to primary school sparked by the comic books, such as Commando, that were around at the time; an interest that continues to this day and reflected by the various books on my shelves covering the subject. I also have a very dark fascination with the great dictators of the time and especially that most bloody of ideological clashes between Hitler and Stalin. So how does the Mythos mesh with this human tragedy on the most far-reaching scale?
The cover of World War Cthulhu sets its stall out right from the off and tips you off to the tone contained within. We have that most iconic of images, the Spitfire, flying across a dark background of inhuman, dispassionate eyes surrounded by the roiling ridges of something immense and unidentifiable. This absence of heroic soldiers in combat poses, firing machine guns and rifles at a clearly visible monstrosity tells us that we’re going dark and serious Cthulhu and not pulp.
The internal look continues with the serious theme. The pages are bordered with a collage of black and white photos and maps. Artwork is evocative of the period, mainly featuring wartime scenes, some of which are action based with a very few containing natural features that actually speak of the unnatural; there are a few “monster” illustrations but these are mercifully few and far between. The interior is easy on the eyes and, at times, visually inspiring, dragging you into the setting and times.
The book is divided into four parts with the first two, up to page 53, being for both players and Keeper. Part Three is the Keeper Handbook, at just over 90 pages and Part Four a mini-campaign contained on just over 50 pages. Total page count comes in at 210.
Before we look at Part One there are a couple of pages of facsimile documents called Network N Briefings which help to establish the style of the setting and immediately has you breathing a sigh of relief that, as a player, you’re not going to have to once again pretend to know nothing of the occult or supernatural; the documents layout quite clearly that there is an esoteric threat but stop well short of explaining the magnitude or identity.
Part One is an short introduction to both British Intelligence and Network N which is the pc’s assumed employer. The assumption is that the pcs will be Brits, but information is given to allow other nationalities
Part Two takes us through character generation; WWC uses 6th Edition rules as it basis. The rules here take us through a far more thorough development than the basic CoC character generation adding stages for Nationality and Upbringing, Personality, Military Service, Mythos Encounter and Recruitment and Training. Each of these additional stages allows added skill points and benefits above and beyond the usual EDU x20 and INT x10 granted to 6th edition characters. Once your character is generated you will probably be blinking in wonder at quite how adept your WWC character is compared to its bumbling 6th edition counterpart. This doesn’t jar with the basic concept of human frailty in the face of the Mthos, however; it merely means that your character is capable of surviving the dangers of the times in order to confront the darkness that lurks at the edge of perception. A couple of new occupations suitable to the period are added, along with some new skills. Part two is rounded off with some advice to players regarding operating procedures and WW2 tactics in order to integrate any players whose knowledge of the conflict is patchy.
Part Three is the Keeper’s Handbook and starts by laying tone out very quickly; this is not a pulp game, this is about a purely human evil taking place at the same time, but entirely separate from, the mysteries of the occult. Nazis are not in league with the Mythos. It will destroy them as willingly as it would you. That is if it even cared about such things which it does not. The book outlines for the Keeper the types of missions the pcs can expect to be sent on and that normally they will have a dual purpose, one human and military, the other supernatural; the first covers for the existence of the second and helps provide plausible deniability. This chapter lays out for the Keeper how to run things, design missions and setting the tone; my favourite piece of advice is “name everyone”; which means no npc mooks and no sanitising or dehumanising the results of killing an npc. This forces the Keeper to lend some clear humanity to that German guard the characters are about to knife and makes the task at hand nastier and more sanity questioning.
The book is clear in the advice it gives to design a mission, run the game and deal with any problems.
We’re also given a breakdown of the early events of the war and the situation in various parts of the European and North African theatre. There are plentiful adventure seeds in the forms of missions for each geographical area. I’ll admit to not being a huge fan of seeds, not because they aren’t any good but that coming up with adventure ideas is not a problem for me. Writing them up is a problem, as I’m often time strapped so being given an idea and then having to detail it myself doesn’t really help me. I recognise that some Keepers may have the opposite problem so the adventure seeds are ideal for dealing with this. There’s a chapter on how the Mythos gods and beings may fit within the context of war torn Europe; again not essential, but at the very least thought provoking and providing links to possible conspiracies and ongoing campaign storylines. There are rules to cover battlefield combat, most of which an experienced Keeper could have dealt with on the fly but very nice for a newcomer to have; the additional rules are reasonably simple and cover things well. Whether I’ll use them myself time will tell. Finally, and somewhat bizarrely in my view, a selection of equipment ranging from guns to explosives to jeeps and planes; this sort of thing would seem to fit more neatly into the player’s section but it’s not a huge problem. The list of gear is detailed but not exhaustive and adds a level of realism to the game if that’s your kind of thing.
Finally, Part Four presents a mini-campaign to start things off. We begin with a detailed look at a town in France caught on the border between the Vichy government and the occupying Germans. The level of detail for the setting is good and, true to its advice on npcs, important occupants are given character and motives and well as a handy checklist of ways to behave when portraying each character to the pcs. There’s as much human intrigue within the borders of town as there is occult so should make the dual mission concept achievable and recognisable to players.
There then follows a mission for the pcs set within the town and surrounding areas. It’s always difficult to know exactly how a scenario will play based solely on a read but what I can say is that the scenario is very firmly tied to the setting concepts and seems to present WWC as it was designed to be played. I can see some potentially unnerving moments for players and there’s plenty of opportunity to play it slow and disturbing on both a human and supernatural level. I have some doubts about the finale but only time and the exposure to real players will tell how that will work. The scenario comes with the usual handouts although probably fewer than standard CoC.
Finally, the book has a specific WWC character sheet which seems to fit the bill well.
There’s the usual pedantic Ragr moans about typos most of which seem to come in little clusters, as if the proofreader went off the boil for a while, but nothing that has you scratching your head. The end of the sample scenario left me with a bit of a frown as to how it would be received by players. Some of the content may be a bit shoulder shruggy for an experienced player or WW2 aficionado but it’s not the writer’s job to assume knowledge and it would be a mistake were they to do so.
The spectre of 7th edition hangs over WWC very slightly but, if all is to be believed about backwards compatibility, shouldn’t prove to be a particularly threatening shadow.
This setting hits the Cthulhu I favour; the off-screen, creepy, disturbing presence that lurks menacingly in the background while the petty human drama plays out before its uncaring eyes. The book gives me, the potential Keeper, everything I need to plunge in and sample things and for players, provides them with the tools to create memorable and competent characters with which to play out the discomforting dramas that Cthulhu at its best can deliver. One experiment I’m longing to see the results of – which is more terrifying, an abstract, uncaring but all powerful menace or, a knock on the door from the Gestapo in the middle of the night?